High-end cocktail bars run on spectacle. The suspenders and mustaches, the fancy glassware, the gigantic hunks of ice and the occasional flamed lemon peel conspire to dazzle patrons who are, after all, paying a premium to drink. What happens when a bar combines the fussy, retro theater of the new-school speakeasy with the Dirty Sixth ridiculousness of the Jell-O shot? You get new-ish bar Somersault at The Domain, which specializes in edible cocktails.
Serving "molecular" Jell-O shots at the fancy mall seems on the surface, like a cynical move, a stunt to draw in bored shoppers. Here is the unexpected thing about Somersault: they take their edible cocktails very seriously. When we ordered our "flight of edibles," the friendly bartender carefully described each one and was happy to answer our many questions about their cocktail program. According to her, Somersault has developed over a hundred flavors of fancy Jell-O shots, which rotate constantly. The menu always features a spicy edible, one involving Red Bull, and a light and heavy "cream" option. The recipes are top secret, in part to deter competition from another unnamed bar in town.
The spread that evening was the Fire Breathing Dragon (a mango/cherry/habanero concoction), the Blood Moon (Red Bull with pop rocks), a banana pudding and a tiramisu shot. The Fire Breathing Dragon is their most popular creating and is always available. The Blood Moon was made in honor of Austin's recent blood moon - a seasonal offering, if you like. Banana pudding came with an actual slice of banana and crumbled Nilla wafers on top, and some type of cookie was swirled into the tiramisu.
My previous experience with Jell-O shots is blearily trying to dig them out of plastic cups in college. These you eat with a spoon. The favorite was indeed the Fire Breathing Dragon, a madeleine of my fruity chemical suburban childhood, accompanied by a serious burn. People who actually like the taste of Red Bull might have enjoyed the Blood Moon; the Pop Rocks were pleasingly fizzy. Banana pudding was surprisingly unsatisfying, and the tiramisu was shockingly successful. None of them tasted remotely like alcohol.
In addition to the edible cocktails, Somersault offers a lengthy menu of liquid ones. Most are fancied-up classics with quirky ingredients like "baked apple bitters;" several are available on fire. We opted for the blowtorch, ordering the Campfire Old Fashioned and the Pacifica. "Nailed it, ladies," our bartender said with a smile. Seriously, I have rarely had such cheerful and genuine service at any bar. Maybe more bartenders should have blowtorches.
The Campfire Old Fashioned is bacon-infused Crown Royal with an ice cube of orange and maraschino cherry. The blowtorching is designed to start the ice melting: we were counseled the flavor would develop, and that it was "a 20-25 minute drink." The Pacifica gets lit on fire twice, supposedly to torch the lemon and cinnamon.
The edible cocktails, if not strictly delicious, were fun. The drinky cocktails were fun while ablaze, but not tasty enough to warrant their price tag. The Campfire Old Fashioned tasted mostly like marshmallow and maraschino cherry syrup, and while the Pacifica might have been great with good rum and fresh juice, the two types of Bacardi weren't cutting it. I handed them both off to my drinking companion, whose love of sweet drinks was extremely useful for this excursion. Also, I was driving.